Turnaround would earn Salukis' keep
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Those who know Wofford football well could spot an aberration while it formed in the Southern Conference in the fall of 2009.
The Terriers hadn't suffered through a losing season since 2001 and had won nine games in both the '07 and '08 seasons, so it must have seemed hard to give credence to their 3-8 record, especially amid the team's key injuries and bad luck.
Sure enough, Wofford bounced back in 2010 with a 10-3 record and a share of the SoCon championship with Appalachian State.
While it's still early in 2011, it's easy to see Southern Illinois could be this year's Wofford.
SIU's demise this past season was greater than Wofford's in 2009. The Missouri Valley Football Conference [MVFC] power had won at least nine games and qualified for the FCS playoffs for seven straight seasons from 2003-09, finishing the '09 regular season as the top-ranked team in the FCS, yet had to win its final two games of the campaign to get to 5-6 overall and 4-4 in conference play.
The Salukis were plagued by injuries in the secondary, where four potential starters were lost to injuries and turned one of the team's strengths into a glaring weakness. They also lacked the offensive game-breaker that Deji Karim, an All-America first-team running back who moved on to the NFL, gave them in 2009.
Southern Illinois' rallying cry for head coach Dale Lennon this offseason is "Earn Your Keep".
"It was definitely a wakeup call," Southern Illinois head coach Dale Lennon said on Wednesday. "Our players are very hungry to get back to the season and kind of vindicate last year's performance."
Inconsistency was a huge problem for SIU while it suffered through a pair of three-game losing streaks. The Salukis found a way to beat the MVFC's top two teams - champion Northern Iowa and runner-up Western Illinois - but also provided last-place Youngstown State with its only conference win.
In Carbondale, they're vowing to have a different team this year. The Salukis will have depth as they boast plenty of returning talent and have brought in what should be an influential group of newcomers.
Starting quarterback Chris Dieker won't be back, but junior-to-be Paul McIntosh has started seven games over the last two seasons and faces competition for the top job from one of the newcomers, left-handed Northern Illinois transfer A.J. Hill, whose brother Nick played for SIU from 2005-07 and is the Salukis' third-leading career passer. It's also possible 6- foot-4 redshirt sophomore Korey Faulkner could be in the mix.
The running game should be outstanding with the return of all five starters, including four 300-pounders, led by senior left tackle David Pickard and senior center Bryan Boemer, as well as fullback John Goode. McIntosh is a running-style quarterback, and running backs Shariff Harris and Steve Strother combined for over 1,000 yards and 13 total touchdowns. Strother came on late in the season and could be the much-need gamebreaker.
Wide receiver took the biggest hit as the Salukis lost their three mainstays at the position, but Oregon State transfer Kevan Walker is expected to step into a key role.
Like the offense, the defense returns seven starters. In addition, All-America strong safety Mike McElroy, who missed most of the 2010 season because of an ankle injury, and free safety Rashad Graham and cornerback James McFadden, who both had knee injuries, will return aiming to put their respective injury- shortened seasons behind them.
Defensive end Chance Coda and outside linebacker Jayson DiManche provide plenty of pressure on opposing backfields, while JUCO transfer Bryan Presume, a linebacker, is a solid addition. The biggest losses facing the 3-4 defense are cornerback Korey Lindsey and inside linebacker Stephen Franklin.
Among incoming freshmen, kicker Chris Adams could make the biggest impact because Kyle Dougherty, who was second all-time in scoring at SIU, has ended his career.
Standing in the Salukis' way is a particularly tough road schedule, including trips to Ohio Valley Conference champion Southeast Missouri State, which won at Saluki Stadium last season, the University of Illinois, Western Illinois and Northern Iowa.
"We're emphasizing the toughness and the consistency, which was a little bit of our challenge last year," Lennon said. "We were kind of an up-and-down football team over the course of the season.
"We've just got to be more consistent. Some of that is experience, some of that is staying healthy. The emphasis here is just being consistent week-in, week-out with their offseason training regimen."
It never hurts a team to have a slogan or mantra to keep everybody focused on team goals. This offseason, SIU's is "Earn Your Keep".
The Salukis, of course, didn't do that last season. There's a strong chance they will this fall.
AROUND THE FCS
The FCS championship game was played after New Year's for the first time this past season. The NCAA has yet to announce the date for next season's title game. Damani Leech, its director of football, said it could be any day between Dec. 29 and the night before the BCS national championship game, determined by a mutually agreed TV date for the game on an ESPN network. This year's Eastern Washington victory over Delaware played opposite the Cotton Bowl on Fox ... Once again, only 10 of the 11 FCS conferences seeking an automatic bid for its champion will be granted one. Whether the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League remains the odd conference out will start to take shape when the FCS committee meets on Feb. 22 to make its recommendations for next season. The recommendations would have to be ratified by the NCAA Championship/Sports Management Cabinet at a later date ... Many Grambling State fans are hoping the SWAC program entices Doug Williams to return as head coach. It doesn't hurt the cause that one of Williams' sons was part of the Tigers' 2011 recruiting class. Doug Williams III is a 6-foot-4 quarterback out of Tampa (Fla.) Catholic ... That Florida Gulf Coast University will be adding a football program to play in the FCS appears unlikely due to financial concerns, according to a recent report in the Naples Daily News. Fellow Atlantic Sun member Kennesaw State announced the addition of football last fall and could join the FCS by 2014.